Working in cubicles — or worse, an open-plan office — gives you an intimate window into your co-workers' personal habits. Sometimes, these habits can be annoying. If they have loud phone conversations, for example, or enjoy long, malodorous lunches. What can you do if you are persistently piqued by a coworker's ways, as one of our former colleagues was by the clicking sound made by the occasional nail-clipping of a nearby cubicle-dweller? You could send them an anonymous e-mail, we suppose, or write a sticky note and post it on their computer. You could move to Pittsburgh, as our former co-worker eventually did. Or, you could shame them into ceasing whatever it is irks you by writing a column about it in a newspaper read by hundreds of thousands of people. That's what Lucy Kellaway did in the FT this weekend.
There is a new man in the office who sits at a desk just behind mine. Most mornings he’s in early, as am I, and as I leaf through the newspapers, I hear a rustling sound and the ring of metal on china followed by a slurp-munch-slurp noise. I look around and see that he has pushed his keyboard aside and at his elbow is a box of Fruit ’n Fibre. He is eating his cereal intently, staring at his computer screen. Presently, he gets up, takes the bowl to the sink, washes it and returns to his desk.
Why exactly does this drive Kellaway wild?
It makes no sense to eat cereal at work. It takes about 90 seconds to prepare and eat a bowl of Bran Flakes at home. The fridge is to hand, as is the dishwasher. In the office there is a trek to the fridge and you have to wash the bowl yourself. The fact that workers overcome such odds to eat their Cheerios at their desks suggests that the mental barrier between the sorts of things we do at home and the sorts of things we do at work has collapsed.
Hmmm, yes, whatever did happen to office decorum? We suppose it went the way of office politeness, and office communication, and oh yes: the office welcome committee. Anyway: if you, Lucy Kellaway's shamed new co-worker, or anyone else, would like to air a personal grievance about your colleague's personal habits to an audience of thousands, feel free to make use of our comments section!